In 2002, the Urantia Foundation received a letter from Konrad G., an Oregon State Penitentiary (OSP) inmate requesting assistance from a Urantia Book reader to facilitate a study group within the prison. Oregon Department of Corrections requires that a volunteer come in from outside the prison to facilitate classes such as a religious study group. The Foundation passed the request on to the Oregon Urantia Association president, Pat Murnin. He and Joy Brandt, the initial volunteers, underwent accreditation, including security clearance and training, to serve as religious volunteers at OSP, and thus the Urantia Book Study Group was born in the Oregon State Penitentiary.
The OSP Urantia Book study group has run for 18 years, excluding a three-year pause during COVID. Over the years, a dozen Urantia Book enthusiasts have served as religious volunteers from the Oregon Urantia reader community. Those who served the longest are Joy Brandt, Pat Murnin, Andrew Rux, Roger Newton, Liz Engstrom-Cratty, Doug Parker, Nancy Votrain, and Dennis Sword.
The meetings eventually increased from monthly to weekly, but since COVID they are now twice a month. Numerous inmates have passed through the group, some for only a short season due to being transferred to other facilities, released from prison, or for personal reasons. However there have been longstanding students as well, including Mike S. who has been with us since the group’s inception, and others who studied with us for many years until finally being released. Currently two others have been studying with us for almost a decade.
New participants are attracted to the group via word of mouth or by announcements we place in the prison’s weekly newsletter, the “Walled Street Bulletin.” Over time, we’ve distributed hundreds of books within OSP, funded by donations from local Urantia groups and volunteers.
If you’re wondering what it’s like to volunteer at a prison, the first time is an unforgettable experience: We soon learned the most efficient way to get through the security checks is to comply with the dress code and follow the many regulations. In addition, every Oregon Department of Corrections volunteer is required to pass State and Federal training twice a year.
The study group convenes around a table in a classroom; inmates must sign up two weeks in advance and be in good standing with the prison. The vast majority of incarcerated attendees are truth-seekers, and the group closely resembles typical Urantia study meetings that are held outside of prison, marked by friendly and polite behavior. We’ve never been concerned about our safety, although a prison guard is nearby if ever needed.
One of the most fulfilling aspects of this ministry is the people we’ve had the privilege of knowing over the years. Witnessing the challenges faced by these incarcerated individuals has been a humbling experience. We’ve observed their struggles and seen the human spirit as it triumphs in adversity or, at times, falls short. The remarkable optimism inmates maintain amid trying circumstances never ceases to amaze us.
The monotony of prison life is real. Faced with long sentences, some men take to numbing themselves with illegal drugs, which are easy to obtain in prison. Aggressive guards, dangerous inmates, long lock-downs, small cells, hundreds of rules, as well as the prisoner’s own emotions of anger, fear, and guilt all add to the stress of their situation. Certain individuals have even expressed feelings that their crimes are too severe for God’s forgiveness. These are some of the aspects encountered in this prison ministry. But The Urantia Book’s affirmation of God’s love and mercy serves as a powerful response to such difficulties. We most certainly also witness courage and faith by those who seek God while living behind prison walls. It is awesome to see.
Study Group Members Past and Present
In addition to founding our study group, Konrad G. made another significant contribution during his time at OSP. Being a talented artist and metal worker in the prison’s metal workshop, he collaborated with a fellow inmate to design and build the Oregon Department of Corrections emblem (shown above) which is displayed as you walk up the entrance to the penitentiary and this image is a credit of their work. Konrad participated in our study group for many years before being transferred to another facility. He has since been released and is living near Portland, OR.
I will always treasure these words from Konrad, “Do you realize that what the study group brings to us and imparts upon us – we get nowhere else? With the right nourishment, lilies can grow up from the mire….”
Brian H. has been reading the book for over 50 years, having discovered it prior to his incarceration. Brian expects to be released in the near future after serving 34 years. A devoted student of the revelation, Brian has brought many souls to the study group and has generously given of his time and financial resources to be about the Father’s business. Brian finds the study group invaluable and is forever grateful to the volunteers for bringing God’s love to a place it is most needed.
Mike S. was introduced to The Urantia Book through Konrad and has been an advocate for the revelation ever since. Mike offers the wisdom he has gained over the years to his fellow inmates. He recently wrote: “The Urantia Book came to me when I most needed it. The downward spiral my life was going through was reversed and somehow it got me on track to live with purpose and hope that my life could change. Instead of being a taker, I slowly became a giver and brought smiles and laughter to my kin and the brothers and sisters in my little part of the world. This revelation dispelled fear and led me to have contact with my Adjuster who helped remove the cloud of doubt I felt for far too long. A Godsend is how I best describe the time I’ve had with the book and I look forward to the many truths I believe will be revealed to me in the days to come. Most of all, I want to thank our volunteers who give their time to come to OSP to help guide us in our study group. Another Godsend.”
Matthew B. received his Urantia Book from a county jail chaplain prior to arriving at OSP. There he read it morning to night and completed his first reading in just three weeks. By the time he got to OSP, he was already on his second reading. During his 17-year sentence, he remained a devoted student of the revelation and was considered the intellectual in the group, having attained a grasp of the teachings well beyond the average reader. Matthew was a model prisoner and dedicated his time while incarcerated to turning his life around. Matthew now lives in Southern Oregon.
Andrew W. is another of our seasoned readers who knows the book well, having joined the group years before the COVID shutdown. He writes, “I had read and heard about The Urantia Book years ago and had desired to read it. This group made the book readily available to me and gave me a forum in which to discuss it.”
Patrick A. came to the group a few months ago. He wrote to say, “I read in my cell every chance I get, especially in the evenings and in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep. I am very happy that I started going to the meetings, it has helped me in so many ways. Every prison should have a study group.”
We pray that The Urantia Book study group continues to foster personal spiritual growth among our brothers at OSP. May minds be illuminated, souls uplifted, and spirits dominant in all who seek truth amidst the challenges of prison life.
The PIRT team would be glad to hear from you to answer any questions that you may have, be it for general advice in your country, conducting in person study, or other insights we might offer for this worthy service. You may contact PIRT by emailing Myra Hight at email@example.com.
And remember that, inasmuch as you minister to one of the least of my brethren, you have done this service to me. (176:3.5)